I was an early adopter of ebooks, in part because of my terrible eyesight, but mostly because I happened to break into reviewing just before the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Fear of contaminated packages increased shipping time for cases of manuscripts from four days to forty. Electronic books (which in those long-ago days were really just doc files) provided instant gratification.
At one point, I even considered ditching paper entirely in favor of electronic formats. In addition to the instant gratification angle, one does not have to worry about ebooks overloading the floors of one’s residence. One can carry a few thousand ebooks in one’s pocket. One can—and for me, this is the killer app—adjust font size. Ebooks are great, and I would defend them to your last breath.
During the pandemic, reading took on new meaning. People turned to books for comfort. Some read to confront difficult issues, especially following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Others used reading as a way to care for their children in locked-down houses.
Sales figures and lending data showed a huge spike in people buying and borrowing books. We wanted to follow the stories of real readers, and our new book uses a rare combination of literary analysis and qualitative interviewing to capture these dynamics of reception.
While many commentators at the beginning of the pandemic endorsed reading as a straightforward way to relax, our readers showed that the practice morphed and took on new forms and meanings.
Based on hundreds of survey responses and hours of reader interviews from Denmark and the UK, the study makes the interpretation of literature something dynamic and ongoing. And it suggests that readers themselves are agents of meaning, even in the case of novels that seem the most stable in our culture.
“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
That’s Academy Award winner Bong Joon-ho, quoted from a Golden Globes acceptance speech all the way back in January 2020. He was talking about subtitles, which, despite being completely necessary and helpful and beyond useful, are apparently hated by some people.
Almost immediately afterward, Bong pulled in a ridiculous four Oscars with Parasite — a fantastically made, multilayered dark comedy that delves deep into the underbelly of class divides. Parasite was an extremely deserving winner. You should absolutely watch this movie.
Alright, it’s time to talk text. Way back before people assumed that you could compress meaningful explanations into Tweet-sized blurbs, people read these super long tweets called “books,” and, uh … oh, you know those? The truth is, judging by the numbers, plenty of people still love cozying up to a piece of fiction, non-fiction, paperback, hardback, whatever, and having some peace of mind. It’s estimated that book sales will rise to $129 billion in the U.S. in 2023 alone (via Statista). Publishers’ Weekly reports that unit sales rose from 757.9 million to 825.7 million from 2020 to 2021. That’s individual books, mind you, an insane figure considering all the bugbear “death of publishing” rumors of yesteryear.
Globally, literacy is at an historical high. Back in 1800, only 12% of the global population could read, as Our World In Data shows. As of 2016, that number was 86.25%. Some countries like Finland, Ukraine, and Czechia for all intents and purposes have 100% literacy rates, per World Population Review. This doesn’t mean that people in those countries or elsewhere are actually reading every day, but judging by the aforementioned publishing figures, it seems like folks still love books.
So how many books do you have in your personal library? If you have to pause and count them, then congratulations. But no matter how many you’ve got, you definitely have less than the Harvard University Library, which has a jaw-dropping 21.8 million titles (via Guinness World Records).